Quatermass: Quatermass and the Pit

September 17, 2014 in Cult TV, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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With the character of Quatermass still very much in the public’s mind, the now freelance writer Nigel Kneale was hired to write a third serial in 1957. With a larger budget and an extra five minutes per episode, Kneale wrote the serial as an allegory for the racial tensions that were currently surfacing in the UK. This is very probably the most popular and well known of the Quatermass serials and is often looked upon as a genuine television classic. In this third story a pre-human skull is unearthed in a building site in Hobbs Lane and palaeontologist Doctor Matthew Roney calls in his old friend Professor Bernard Quatermass. Together they discover an impenetrable space ship and learn of ghost sightings dating back decades. There is an ancient mystery at Hobbs Lane which dates back millions of years, and that mystery threatens to wipe out all life on Earth. The devil himself is coming for a final reckoning, and Quatermass is the only one who can stop him.

This story was made just before video tape became general at the BBC and so was once again telerecorded meaning we have all six episodes for our viewing pleasure. We also once again have a different actor playing the title role, the third one in just as many serials. This time, André Morell is Quatermass and his interpretation is often viewed as the definitive one. He was originally offered the role for the first serial but turned it down. Joining him this time around are Doctor Matthew Roney who is played by Canadian actor Cec Linder and Colonel Breen played by Anthony Bushell, who was often cast in military roles. Rounding off the main cast were Christine Finn as Barbara Judd and John Stratton as Captain Potter. For the first time, this serial features a returning character other than Quatermass. Journalist James Fullalove from The Quatermass Experiment makes a return here albeit played by another actor, Brian Worth, as Paul Whitsun-Jones was unavailable.

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As you’re probably all aware by now this is the spoiler-free section of the review so if you’re sensitive about that kind of stuff this part’s been given the all clear. Now you may recall I did a review of the Hammer film version of this a while ago so how does this shape up against the film? Well they each have their own things going for them. Of course the film has a bigger budget but that doesn’t necessarily mean a better end product. The TV serial, however, has a much longer run time but does that mean it’s more developed or just moves at a snail’s pace. Well the simple answer is that the film doesn’t feel rushed but the TV serial doesn’t feel slow, which is quite an accomplishment given the vast difference in the length. The TV serial’s length is great for additional characters such as Captain Potter who are virtually non-existent in the film and it also helps to rack up the tension, not that the film doesn’t. One thing that the TV serial definitely has which is better is André Morell as Quatermass. While Andrew Keir is by no means bad, André Morell is just the definitive Quatermass and I entirely agree with popular opinion on that one. He just plays it so well and comes more in line with Reginald Tate’s portrayal of the part than John Robinson’s so for those of you who preferred the original then you’ll definitely like André Morell as Quatermass.

Now for the spoiler section of the review so if you want to avoid spoilers then skip to the end. You have been warned. Are they gone? Good, now let’s get into things but starting off with the general premise. The idea of aliens being responsible for human evolution isn’t an uncommon one but it’s something I can’t think of an example of from before Quatermass. The idea of the devil being an alien though is a bit less common and is only really used when paying homage to this. There is one Doctor Who story that has both these things among many others. The Dæmons was from 1971 and was definitely inspired by the ideas here, although the tone is completely different. Now let’s talk about Colonel Breen who is, in effect, the main antagonist of the piece. Now while he’s not necessarily evil, he is Quatermass’s main obstacle in convincing the public of the dangers of the spaceship. It’s unclear whether Breen was under the influence of the spaceship or not and with little things like this it’s nice to have that ambiguity to allow the viewer to make up their own mind. His death, however, was much more graphic and frightening in the film. In the TV serial it’s hard to tell whether he’s dead or just in a trance. Also, I do feel the film does the ending slightly better and more downbeat, but arguably that’s aided by the budget.

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Overall, it is amazing and Nigel Kneale has a way of writing in which things take their time to happen but the tension is racked up to the extreme. He is truly at his best here and, as you’ve probably guessed by now, this is my favourite of the four. Highly recommended, even if you haven’t seen the first two. They’re all really self contained so you’re free to watch the first three in any order. The fourth, however, is another matter. Why? Well we’ll be taking a look at that next time in the final chapter in this epic story.